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Traffic Fines and Punishment

Most traffic tickets are minor offenses, also called infractions. Yet even small tickets can have a big impact if you get too many in a short period of time. Some tickets can be serious enough to risk your driver's license.

FindLaw's Traffic Fines and Punishment section provides information about the ticket point system, fighting a traffic ticket, and your alternative options.

What Is the Penalty for My Ticket?

The cost of a ticket varies depending on your state laws and the specific violation type. Your traffic citation may list the fine amount or other penalties. The ticket may also mention a court appearance for a judge to decide the exact punishment.

Minor traffic infractions usually involve a fine ranging from under $100 to $1,000 with additional court costs. A first offense carries a lower fine than a subsequent offense. Violations in a school zone or construction zone typically pose more expensive fines.

Misdemeanor and felony offenses can also have higher fines plus jail time and other consequences. For example, a ticket for driving under the influence (DUI) might come with a license suspension or loss of your vehicle.

The Driver's License Points System

You may have heard about traffic ticket points. These points represent a driver's traffic violations, and they appear on their driving record.

Most states use a unique system that converts traffic violations to a specific point value. Serious traffic offenses generally have higher point values.

You may face a license suspension or revocation if you get a certain number of points. Drivers often choose to fight traffic tickets to keep their point totals as low as possible.

Should I Fight a Traffic Ticket?

The first thing to think about when deciding whether to fight a traffic ticket is if it's worth your time and energy. You may want to challenge any ticket that will significantly raise your car insurance premiums or risk your license. You can also consider how strong your defense might be.

How to Contest a Traffic Ticket

The steps below outline the general process for fighting a ticket:

  1. Read your ticket to review all details, including the specific violation. Check whether the ticket contains any major errors that could make it void, such as listing the wrong car model.
  2. Look up the law that the police accused you of violating. Examine the specific elements of the law. For example, a speeding law might list different speed limits for each type of road or zone.
  3. Review the circumstances when you received the ticket. For example, was the posted speed limit different from the law?
  4. Consider whether your actions fall within the law. A traffic law attorney can help you understand how the rules apply to your situation and develop a strategy for your defense.
  5. Attend your court date. Bring any evidence that can support your case. Prepare to explain why you didn't violate the law or had a legitimate reason for the violation.

The traffic court may automatically dismiss your ticket if the officer who issued it fails to show up. Or the judge might rule in your favor and cancel the ticket if your argument is strong enough. Both of these outcomes will prevent the ticket's penalties.

Other Ways to Avoid Paying a Ticket Fine

Drivers sometimes can attend traffic school to reduce or eliminate fines and punishments. You can usually only take this option once a year. The court might also let you pay for your ticket with community service hours.

Some non-moving violations can be forgiven if you fix the problem. For example, repairing a broken seat belt could prevent the penalties of a related vehicle equipment fix-it ticket.

Law enforcement's goal should be to increase safety through consequences, not to inflict harm or extort the public. The court might offer a payment plan or fine reduction due to financial hardship. You might not waive the fine entirely, but you could reach a reasonable agreement with court approval.

Avoiding Jail Time for a Traffic Ticket

You could face a possible arrest and jail sentence for some kinds of traffic violations, such as reckless driving or DUI. Usually, the only way to avoid jail is to win your case in court.

Criminal offenses on the road call for skilled legal advice. Your case may involve a complex analysis of the evidence and driving laws. Building a defense with a lawyer is wise when your driving record and your criminal record could both change.

Hiring a Traffic Lawyer

Most minor traffic tickets don't require the help of an attorney, even if you want to fight the ticket. But you might want to consult a traffic law attorney if you have questions about your ticket or legal options.

If your charge is a serious traffic offense – such as a DUI or felony hit and run – it's in your best interest to contact a criminal defense attorney.

Learn About Traffic Fines and Punishment

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Complex traffic tickets usually require a lawyer
  • Experienced lawyers can seek to reduce or eliminate penalties
  • A lawyer can help you keep your license

Get tailored legal advice and ask a lawyer questions. Many traffic ticket attorneys offer free consultations.

 

 If you need an attorney, find one right now.

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